Division Outlook: NL West

NL West 2014 Final Standings
Los Angeles Dodgers         94     68
San Francisco Giants         88     74
San Diego Padres               77     85
Colorado Rockies               66     96
Arizona Diamondbacks       64     98

With less than two weeks until the start of spring training we now turn our eyes to the Senior Circuit, beginning with the ever-rambunctious NL West. The Dodgers ran away with this division last year, finally dispatching the Giants in a late-September contest in which Clayton Kershaw threw 8 innings of 1-run ball with 11 K’s, leaving the boys from San Francisco holding their heads in their hands and having to claw their way into a Wild Card spot. Of course, they ended up walking away with a lot more than that. The Rockies’ pitching staff collapsed in the usual hilarious fashion, while their key players all hit the DL. Also, per usual, the Diamondbacks were the worst team in baseball, while the Padres also existed and were rumored to be playing games as late as the end of September. What’s changed in 2015?

The Dodgers are again the clear and obvious favorite, but I’m not as convinced as many that this is going to be a better team this year. The defensive upgrades they’ve made are significant, but it can’t be ignored that they’ve lost two of their key lineup contributors in Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp. Yes, re-signing Hanley, who isn’t a shortstop and is injury-prone, was always the right move. And while, as a fan, it was heartbreaking to see Kemp go, it is understandable. He was fully healthy and played near his vintage 2011 MVP-level in the second half, but the downside risk on that contract is so significant, you’d like to get it off from around your neck if you can – he’s a poor outfielder, a major health liability, and has degenerative hips. But who will hit? Yasiel Puig has all the talent in the world, but his disappointing second half is a cause for concern, especially if he’s going to be “the guy” in this lineup. Adrian Gonzalez is just a shadow of his former dominance, but he’s steady. Howie Kendrick will always pull his own weight, but the rest of the lineup is volatile – Jimmy Rollins will be 36, Juan Uribe has been way up and way down as a Dodger, and Joc Pederson, while I like him as a prospect, looks more like a Colby Rasmus-type to me. That is to say I don’t expect him to start raking right away; there will be frustration, there will be K’s. The weaknesses that this team had last year are still weaknesses. They still don’t have a #5 starter and they still have a thin bullpen. Picking up Brandon McCarthy was great, and Brett Anderson is a fine pitcher, but would you bet on him giving you 30 starts? The Dodgers are. The Heaney-for-Kendrick deal was confounding at first because, as much as I like Kendrick, and I’ve long considered him one of the most underrated players in the game, didn’t the Dodgers have more of a need for someone like Andrew Heaney? This isn’t to say that this isn’t a very good team, it is, but I don’t think it’s quite the top squad in the NL. We’ll get to that soon enough in another post.

Nobody did a better job of grabbing headlines this offseason than the Padres and, by our reckoning, they did enough to pull themselves up into 2nd place and take a shot at one of those Wild Cards. They managed to add plenty of punch to their lineup while not drawing from the strength of their major league roster pitching. The presence of pending FA Justin Upton and the signing of 33 year-old James Shields signals that the Padres are all-in. Like today, this very second. This is not a rebuilding project and I don’t think anyone quite expected that going into the offseason. But A.J. Preller’s aggressiveness will be one of the lasting stories. Despite the loss of leading batsman Seth Smith, who had one of the better Petco seasons in recent memory, the offense figures to significantly improve on the 535 runs they scored last year with Upton and Kemp now anchoring it. They took a couple of buy-low bets on a couple post-hype guys in Wil Myers and Will Middlebrooks. I think the former will work out nicely, but I’d be surprised if Middlebrooks is ever an average starter. The addition of Derek Norris means they didn’t lose much production behind the plate while trading Yasmani Grandal. Jedd Gyorko will have to bounce back and it’s starting to look like Yonder Alonso will never take that next step forward as a hitter, but overall they’re doing alright. What becomes of Cameron Maybin? He’s too good to be a backup centerfielder. Trade piece at the deadline? With Shields on the squad, hopefully a full season from Andrew Cashner, and 100% less Eric Stults, the pitching staff, which was #2 in ERA last year, should at least hold steady. Brandon Morrow represents the buy-low, high-upside player on the pitching side. Hopefully it’ll work out better than Josh Johnson. At the very least, San Diego fans will have a team that’s exciting to watch for the first time in years.

Are the 2010-14 Giants the worst dynasty in Major League history? The answer is without a doubt an unequivocal yes. Three championships in five years is impressive by any standards, but the Giants have done it without ever being a dominant regular-season team. They won their division in only two of five years, they missed the playoffs twice, and finished ten games under once. For long stretches of the 2014 season, they were playing outright bad baseball. This came on the heels of a 76-86 season. Are we sure they’re even a good team at this point? The short story of their offseason is thus: lost key contributors, didn’t replace them. Casey McGehee is alright if you’re the 2014 Marlins, but he’s a no-power, bad-glove, line-drive hitting 3B. Any BABIP tumble at all (from .335 last year) could wipe out his value. Nori Aoki had a one-month hot streak, but was otherwise a below-average hitter for most of last season. The pitching staff is… it’s the same. It’s actually kind of remarkable how exactly the same it is. Not only is it the same, they resigned multiple players of marginal value to ensure it stayed the same – Jake Peavy, Ryan Vogelsong, Sergio Romo. That’ll do. Their pitching was actually pretty middle-of-the-pack last year, ranking 7th in ERA. Seems reasonable to expect… something similar. The one thing that could be a source of improvement for the Giants in 2015 is their young second baseman, Joe Panik. They suffered through a half-season of abysmal production from that position before he came up last year, and now he’ll play his first full season. A former 1st-round pick, he was impressive down the stretch and looks like he has what it takes to hold down that spot for years to come.

The Diamondbacks cleaned house after their rough 2014, replacing their manager and GM all under the august direction of Tony La Russa, the kind of experienced, battle-hardened shipmaster who can steer this storied franchise away from the rocky shores of Towers-ball and into the promised new dawn. The sun stands high over the desert, the sparrows come out to greet it, and the javelinas rustle from their slumber in the arroyos for they know too what nobody can deny – after bitter winter and long night, the Age of Tuffy Gosewich has finally arrived. Anyways, it’s still not clear that this team really has a coherent strategy. It seems like they were in on some bigger FAs like James Shields, but mostly struck out. The pickup of 24 year-old Cuban Yasmany Tomas could be an underrated signing, although it remains to be seen if he can play third base, where the D-backs plan on playing him.  It seems odd to trade the previously solid Wade Miley after a down year for a couple of question marks whose prospect sheen is starting to wear off as well as picking up someone like Jeremy Hellickson to replace him. In the long run, this team will probably be fine. They’ve got one of the NL’s top hitters in Paul Goldschmidt, a promising centerfielder in A.J. Pollock, a fine young shorstop in Chris Owings, plus a relative glut of talented young starting pitchers. The headliners of that last group would be the returning Patrick Corbin and top prospect Archie Bradley. Honestly, they’ve got so many young arms lying around, both in the majors and the minors, that it’s hard to imagine they can’t get at least a couple of them to work out. In the short term, they’ll probably be somewhat better, because it would be hard to be worse. All the Diamondbacks fans who’ve wrapped their hopes up in the ascendancy of Tuffy Gosewich might be a little disappointed, because they’re not totally ready to compete yet. A lot of their pieces could use another year of development, but they could be closer than you think.

Melancholia. I feel for the Rockies, I really do. I empathize with the Rockies. I believed in this team for so long, truly. I believed in their core talent, that a real winner could be built here, that the window was wide open. But it just never happened. So much squandered potential, so many wasted opportunities. It shouldn’t have been hard. Now it’s all coming apart, falling to dust. I wonder if it somehow goes deeper, that nothing good can happen for the Rockies. That no matter what the pre-conditions are, it’ll just never work out right. They had the greatest shortstop of his generation, but he’s constantly hurt and you can see the signs of an ugly, painful divorce brewing on the horizon. Carlos Gonzalez, great talent, same issues with injuries. Dexter Fowler. Dexter, they never appreciated what they had. They even had the pitching this time around – Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, the erstwhile Ubaldo Jiminez, these guys were among the best pitchers that they’ve ever developed. And nothing, man, just nothing to show for it. Look at the 2009 team again. There’s no reason that team should have gone on a five-year run this awful. At any point during that time, all they needed was a little luck and just a handful of other guys who weren’t complete dogshit, but they never came up with it. Now they’re gonna have to start all over; if they haven’t committed to it already, they will soon. Yeah, there’s some talent here… Nolan Arenado, nice player. Jon Gray, Eddie Butler… Corey Dickerson, could have a big year. That’s real talent. But don’t get your hopes up. The Rockies signed Kyle Kendrick this year, a guy who doesn’t miss bats and gives up home runs at an above-average rate. Tune in to see how high his ERA can go.

NL West 2015 Projected Standings
Los Angeles Dodgers         92     70
San Diego Padres              85      77
San Francisco Giants         82     80
Arizona Diamondbacks      71     91
Colorado Rockies               70     92
Featured Image: Via Fox Sports

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